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Biden Says White House Should Prod Kremlin Over Abuse Of Chechen Gays

Activists in St. Petersburg protested gay abuse in Chechnya earlier this month.
Activists in St. Petersburg protested gay abuse in Chechnya earlier this month.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on April 14 called on the White House to raise concerns about the persecution of gay men in Chechnya "directly with Russia's leaders."

The respected Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that police in the predominantly Muslim republic rounded up more than 100 men believed to be homosexuals and held them in camps, torturing many and killing at least three.

Chechen authorities have dismissed the reports, saying that there are no homosexuals in the republic.

Biden said he was "disgusted and appalled" by the reports of gay men being tortured and killed. "When faced with such crimes of hate and inhumanity, it is the responsibility of every person of conscience to speak out," he said.

"The human rights abuses perpetrated by Chechen authorities and the culture of impunity that surrounds them means that these hate crimes are unlikely to ever be properly investigated or that the perpetrators will see justice," Biden said.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (file photo)
Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (file photo)

The Trump administration, which on April 7 expressed concern about the reports of gay persecution in Chechnya and urged Russian authorities to investigate, should "advance human rights for everyone by raising this issue directly with Russia's leaders," Biden said.

Earlier on April 14, the Kremlin appeared to take a hands-off stance toward the Chechen matter, saying it does not have "reliable information about any problems in this area."

Novaya Gazeta had called on the Kremlin for protection on April 14, saying it fears for the safety of its journalists after they exposed the persecution of gay men in Chechnya.

Novaya Gazeta in an open letter said that a large gathering in Chechnya's main mosque earlier this week threatened those reporting the story with "reprisals," and authorities should investigate the threats.

The newspaper said the Chechen leaders referred to reporters as "the enemies of our faith and our homeland," and promised that "retribution" will be taken "without a statute of limitations."

"This resolution is encouraging religious fanatics to retaliate against our journalists," Novaya editor in chief Dmitry Muratov said.

Two of Novaya's reporters specializing in Chechnya -- Anna Politkovskaya and Natalya Estemirova -- have been murdered in the last decade. Neither case has been fully solved.

Set up with financial help from ex-Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1993, Novaya Gazeta is well-known in Russia for its investigations into official corruption, its reporting on Chechnya, criticism of the authorities, and coverage of the opposition at a time when most media are loyal to the Kremlin.

The Russian office of Amnesty International on April 14 backed the newspaper's concerns, saying it considers the resolution by Chechen clergymen and elders to be "a threat of violence against journalists."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had been informed of the threats against Novaya Gazeta reporters and suggested that Chechen elders take any grievances they have to the courts.

"If in someone's opinion there were slanderous materials, there are legal methods of challenging prescribed by the law. Obviously, we are strongly opposed to any other methods of influence. Especially against actions that could pose a threat to the security and life of journalists," Peskov said.

Novaya Gazeta's stories featured Chechen men who reported being arrested and subsequently tortured with beatings and electric shocks, as well as being forced to supply authorities with the names and phone numbers of other gay and bisexual people.

A St. Petersburg advocacy group, Russian LGBT Network, set up an emergency hotline to take calls from Chechnya.

NBC News reported on April 14 that the group has received about 50 calls from people who were targeted or are trying to escape the region.

Russian LGBT Network told NBC News it believes around 20 men have been killed by authorities in Chechnya.

"People are very intimidated and not eager to talk. They are hesitant to even talk to us," Natalia Poplevskaia, the network's International Advocacy Officer and Monitoring Program Coordinator, told NBC News on April 11.

The Russian LGBT Network said it is helping to evacuate Chechens who have been tortured or are in danger.

On April 14, the group's website briefly stopped functioning. The group told NBC News the website was targeted by hackers trying to crash the site by overwhelming it with traffic.

The website of Novaya Gazeta was hit by a similar attack on April 13.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and NBC News
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